I Was Wrong About…Early Mornings

Photo by Inka Vappula

My friends and family know that early mornings and I have never been in cahoots. In some circles it’s even my unfortunate claim to fame: “Oh, you’re that Inka, the one who threw a punch at someone for trying to wake you up. Yeah, I’ve heard about you”. For the record, it’s been 10 years, it only happened once, and I missed. So put down the sticks people, that horse is mulch by now.

Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

Grossly exaggerated stories aside, I truly have always hated early mornings. I don’t feel grumpy per se, although I have been told I look like I’m ready to murder, I’m just slow to start—like an old PC. I don’t think I’ve ever woken up naturally with the sunrise. And I’ve always had a strong distaste for those inspirational morning quotes: “the morning is full of possibilities” and all that crap.  The whole day is full of possibilities if you ask me. Silly morning-person propaganda, I thought.

University is a paradise for slow starters, such as myself. During my first semester, I made the mistake of enrolling in a linguistics course, which ran at 8:30 am on Fridays. Mostly I remember having a stiff neck all spring from sleeping sitting up. I rectified the situation by planning my schedule so that I never had to be up and about before noon. Ah, bliss!

However, during the past year, my optimal, late-riser schedule went topsy-turvy. I began a teacher-training program, which meant that most weekdays I had to either be attending classes or teaching them by 8 o’clock. It was my Everest.

In the beginning it was a twisted form of torture, I’m not going to lie. Even with a dangerously high coffee dosage, I felt—and probably looked like—the living dead, dragging my cumbrous feet from point A to point B, dazed and unaware of my surroundings. And I was constantly finding myself in the toilet, due to the unlawful amounts of coffee I was consuming. Torture, I tell you! I was miserable and much more adamant in my hatred of early mornings than I’d ever been.

Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

As the year has progressed, however, strange things have begun to happen. First, my body stopped resisting the new rhythm of life, and then my attitude began to shift as well. I’ve come to relish the way my senses are attuned to the morning and the routines I’ve adopted: the softness of woolen socks as I slip them on and tiptoe downstairs to make coffee; the familiar drip and gurgle accompanied by the rich aroma of a fresh brew as it falls in the pot; dark winter mornings, eating breakfast in the candlelight; or in the spring, watching the sun put on a splendid color display as it climbs lazily across the horizon.

The stillness, the serenity.

I’m a long way from becoming the person who jumps straight out of bed into running shoes. I doubt I’ll ever be that person. But I will admit: I was wrong about early mornings. They are okay–dare I say–even enjoyable, as long as they contain coffee and solitude.

Olly Olly…

The Cast. From the left: Clarissa, Ren, Alex, Jonas, and Nona.

Spending four years of my childhood living in Italy meant a lot of warm summer nights, which of course meant neighborhood games of hide and seek or kick the can. Crouched down in a dank bush, I could feel my heart pounding against my chest as I waited for the chance to run up to the can to give it a swift kick, sending it flying as I called out “olly olly oxen free,” to let any caught players know that they were once again free.

Some of that same feeling of adolescent tension comes through in the indie game Oxenfree. Developed by Night School Studio, a small development team founded by Telltale (The Walking Dead game) and Disney alumni, Oxenfree is a beautiful-looking mystery filled with a pleasing mix of humor and horror. It’s a game that doesn’t explain much at first, but fills in details along the way, giving you the opportunity to shift the story and characters as you progress.

The game begins on a small ferry taking you to a local island. “You” being Alex, a teenage girl getting to know her new step-brother Jonas for the first time. Joining the two is Ren, Alex’s quick-witted best friend, who has planned this trip in the spirit of a local tradition. The island they’re heading to is abandoned at this time of the year, save for one old woman who lives in isolation, and has played host to many groups of teens looking to camp out for the night, have a few drinks, and possibly explore some of the islands supposedly supernatural elements…

Once you get to the island, you meet up with Nona, a girl that Ren has a crush on, and Clarissa, a snarky teen who clearly has issues with Alex. The adventures on the island start off simple enough, with the five of them playing truth or dare around a campfire on the beach. Things start escalating pretty quickly though when Ren talks Alex into using her portable radio to test out an urban legend: that if you tune into certain frequencies at certain spots on the island, you might hear something altogether unnatural.

To describe more of the story would be to start spoiling some of the surprises, although your own experience might differ from my own. This is because Oxenfree has a cool conversation system that lets you, as Alex, constantly chose from different options on how to interact with the other characters. Want to be as rude to Clarissa as she is to you? Go for it. Want to tell Ren to stop being a wimp and ask Nona out? Your choice. Want to spill the beans to Nona that Ren likes her? Again, your call.

The Conversation System in Action (Screencap)

The Conversation System in Action (Screencap)

In execution, it’s pretty simple, and actually, one of the more interesting aspects of this system is how fluid it is. The incredibly talkative will be conversing to either Alex or each other. Then, when it’s almost time for your character to possibly say something, three word bubbles appear around her head indicating possible responses. All you have to do is press the button corresponding to the response you want to give and the conversation continues to flow smoothly. It feels more effortless than those in other games where the action might pause as you read the lengthier response options. Here, it’s usually just a word or two, yet I never got the feeling that the description didn’t fit the actual lines that Alex then says. Because of the fluidity of it, it’s easy to lull yourself into the dreamlike world of the game. It just feels natural, walking around with your friends as you respond to their comments.

Dreamlike is actually a pretty apt way to describe the visuals of the game. Being a side-scrolling game (think of the camera angle in Super Mario. Bros), the characters themselves only take up a small fraction of the screen, the rest being gorgeous landscapes that actually reminded me of scenes from the infamous Lars von Trier film Antichrist. That may sound like an odd comparison to make, but if you’ve seen the film, think of the sequences where Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character imagines floating through the wilderness. That kind of eerie atmosphere is present in the background visuals of Oxenfree.

The Cast. From the left: Clarissa, Ren, Alex, Jonas, and Nona.

The Cast. From the left: Clarissa, Ren, Alex, Jonas, and Nona.

The character models, as I said, are rather tiny, but there are moments in the game where they might take a selfie, which can then be viewed in the pause menu. The selfies look great, letting you see the characters drawn in lush detail, and are one of the best indicators of the dev-team’s past involvement with animation. The drawing style has all the charm of the best animated films, bringing to mind something along the lines of The Iron Giant. It’s these glimpses of the characters that help make them feel fully realized, while also serving to add a tinge of nostalgia. Even better, on occasion, the selfies might let you catch glimpses of ghostly figures that you can’t otherwise see…

Oxenfree is, at its heart, a game about nostalgia and loss. It’s set in that awkward phase of a person’s life when they’re not a kid anymore, yet not quite an adult either. As the story develops, you begin to learn more about their pasts, and, without giving anything away, you learn of the tragedies that some of them have had to experience. I actually began to notice that these revelations changed the way I interacted with certain characters, helping me better understand some of them. And as I became more attached to them, I became all the more certain that I had to make sure they all made it to the end.

In essence, Oxenfree is a game that is easy to slide yourself into. The dialogue choices you make and the actions you perform throughout the game affect the way the story progresses, making it uniquely your experience. But in addition to that more mechanical idea, the art-style and production of Oxenfree is clear enough to give you a story to follow and characters to latch onto, yet vague enough to let you mix your own adolescent memories with the dreamlike world presented in the game. It’s a wonderful balance that proves to make for a compelling journey you won’t soon forget.

It’s a game that captures the essence of my old childhood experiences… The nostalgic memories of the warm Italian nights. The rapid beating of my heart as tension continued to build. And the thrill of getting to save my friends with a ringing cry of “olly olly oxen free!”

Oxenfree is currently available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam.

Podcast: Intercultural Happy Hour

Dear readers of BTSB,

I’m incredibly proud to bring you the very first episode of my own podcast, The Intercultural Happy Hour with Jesper and Friends. This podcast will delve into ideas about culture, interculturality, and identity, and it comes from a very personal place for me. As of late, I’ve become more aware of certain issues with how we view culture and identity, especially in terms of how they are often seen as solid constructs. As this world becomes an increasingly global place, we are becoming more connected with each other and this means that issues of how to address culture and identity are becoming more relevant. There is no simple answer to how to deal with these ideas but this podcast aims to explore them as much as possible. Each episode, I’ll have a new guest on the show to explore these issues through their own personal experiences. For this first episode, I have my very good friend and fellow BTSB editor Ari Mäntykivi joining me.

As I said, this is the first episode of my first podcast. It’s a podcast whose own identity is still not locked in place so there may be a rough spot or two but I hope you will find something to latch on. I truly believe that there is great potential with this podcast and I warmly thank Ari for helping me start this journey.

This podcast is an experiment in dealing with certain frustrations while finding humor in other situations. Most of all, this podcast is about trying to understand our own identities better or, at the very least, it’s about coming to terms with how impossible that can be.

Without further ado, here’s the first podcast.

Thanks for listening,

Jesper Simola

IHH2

Song credits:

Secret Chiefs 3 – The 3

Django Django – Waveforms

Michael Jackson – Black or White